If you had told me back in February that the recently-signed Juan Pierre would be picking up a majority of the 2012 Phillies starts in left field, I would have told you that that Phillies team was probably in quite a bit of trouble. And, well, here we go.
When Pierre was signed in January for $800,000, it barely registered more than an indifferent shrug on this site. Others addressed the deal in more depth, concluding that Pierre's particular skill set could prove valuable as a bench piece for a contending team. What few, if any, anticipated coming into the season was a situation where Pierre would be relied upon to soak up a lot of playing time in left field.
Coming into Spring Training 2012, the outfield picture appeared to be pretty clear: All-Stars Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence in center and right, respectively, and John Mayberry, coming off a "breakout" 2011 campaign, for most of the starts in left field. But then a few things happened. John Mayberry, to the surprise of many but not all, had a brutal spring, and lost a great deal of playing time to Pierre, who impressed the Phillies coaches and staff. Mayberry's struggles carried over into the regular season, Pierre found himself getting more than a few starts, and performing well, at least by his own standards.
Pierre has always been a sabermetric whipping boy. He has virtually no power. He is not a great percentage basestealer. He does "the little things" that announcers and old school types drool over but stat guys hate, like bunting and moving runners.
What he is particularly good at, however, is slapping singles. My man can slap singles into the outfield all day. Which, in this day and age of reduced offense, can be quite a valuable thing. Pierre's season line of .312/.353/.380 is actually not all that bad. Moreover, he's been very successful at stealing bases, stealing 28 bags in 32 attempts, well in excess of his mediocre career rates.
Then there's consistency. An overrated virtue, but nonetheless, Pierre's batting averages by month: April .318; May .329; June .293; July .304; August .313.
Finally, this is just as much an indictment of the quality of the team and their poor fortune with injuries, but Pierre's rWAR of 1.6 is second among position players to Carlos Ruiz's 4.0; by fWAR, he's tied for sixth with the now departed Hunter Pence at 1.3. With Pence and Victorino (3rd at 2.1) gone, Pierre sits at 4th on the current roster.
The Pierre deal also allowed the team to give Domonic Brown some additional seasoning in the minor leagues. I know there's a lot of dispute with regard to how much, if any, additional time Brown needed at Triple-A, but the decision is at least defensible, and it's not like a full season of Domonic Brown was likely to vault this team into contention. Based on Brown's play this month, and his mature approach at the plate, it's likely that the move was at the very least not harmful to Brown's long-term development, which is far more important than his impact on the current season.
Pierre has been a very effective patch on a roster that's been held together with chewing gum and Ace bandages all season. There's no guarantee or likelihood that this performance is going to carry over into next season. His baBIP of .325 is fairly high, but not insane. Still, some regression is likely. That Pierre has performed in excess of expectations has been a blessing, to the extent that the team has neither had to rush a prospect, spend additional money, or trade away talent to acquire another stopgap.
Huzzah, Mr. Pierre!